The largest public health emergency of our lifetimes continues, with widespread and devastating social and economic consequences. The disparities in the impact of Covid-19 on racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous groups and women are signifiers of deeply rooted inequality and the crisis exposes this inequality in its starkest terms, within and between countries, with the most vulnerable people hardest hit. Inequalities are increasing between countries with the economic means to face the crisis and those without.
The fairest and most effective way to end this pandemic is to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments. But pharmaceutical company monopolies could leave countries in the global south waiting until 2023 for widespread vaccination. This leaves us all in danger from new variants which may make current vaccines ineffective. Restricting vaccine supply to protect profits during a pandemic will cost countless lives. This is unacceptable and threatens us all: no-one is safe until everyone is safe.
The promise on vaccine donation at the G7 is paltry compared to what’s needed and lacks the ambition and scale that is required. While the head of the United Nations welcomed the move he said more was needed. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that if people in developing countries were not inoculated quickly, the virus could mutate further and become resistant to the new vaccines. For example, we in Trócaire are currently seeing alarming rates of new infections in Uganda, arising from an extremely virulent variant.
Governments need to temporarily suspend intellectual property rights at the World Trade Organisation for Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. This will help break the pharmaceutical companies’ grip and increase supplies so there are enough doses for everyone, everywhere. Governments also need to endorse the World Health Organisation (WHO) Covid Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) to facilitate the sharing of know-how by pharmaceutical companies to increase vaccine production.
Rich countries owe a moral debt
The G7 also missed the opportunity to meaningfully commit to climate finance.
Developing countries are already being subjected to more frequent and more severe droughts, storms, flooding and typhoons. There is an urgent need for international support to help them not only reduce their own emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, but also to allow them to adapt to the ever more unstable and unpredictable climate.
Rich countries owe a moral and ecological debt to developing countries for the damage they have done to the environment. This debt includes financial responsibilities. Rich countries must provide the means to allow poorer countries to prepare for increasing climate impacts and to follow a clean, climate-friendly development pathway.
In the run-up to COP 26 in November, G7 governments need to:
- Increase annual climate finance to deliver on the fair share of the Paris Agreement commitment, particularly targeted at interventions dedicated to impacts for women, including funding for grassroots and women’s organisations to empower local civil society.
- Urgently step up climate ambition to close the emissions gap and meet the Paris Agreement targets.
- Limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and commit to no more biodiversity loss.
The meeting in Cornwall may be over but that doesn’t mean the opportunity to implement meaningful change on these crucial issues has passed. The G7 nations can still do the right thing and show that actions, not words, are the hallmarks of good leadership.